Local Election

Brand, who rose from poverty to wealth, now looks to city’s top job

Lee Brand's plan for Fresno's future

During the Fresno mayoral primary season, candidate Lee Brand discussed his plan for improving Fresno (he stresses economic strength). Now that he's mayor-elect, here's a look back at Brand's campaign planks.
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During the Fresno mayoral primary season, candidate Lee Brand discussed his plan for improving Fresno (he stresses economic strength). Now that he's mayor-elect, here's a look back at Brand's campaign planks.

In more than seven years on the Fresno City Council, Lee Brand has become synonymous with his northeast Fresno district, a wealthy enclave of spacious single-family homes with well-tended lawns, pristine streets and a largely Caucasian, politically engaged population.

In reality, Brand has come a long way.

He grew up poor on McKenzie Street in a two-bedroom, one-bath home not far from Roosevelt High School, and as a teen even did a stint in juvenile hall. He looks at himself today in amazement, almost as if he can’t believe his good fortune.

Brand is a self-made millionaire. He pulled himself together as a youth, earned a college degree, started a property management business and became an American success story.

My vision for Fresno – I’ve said it many times – is a full economic recovery, where we drop unemployment below 10 percent on a sustained basis.

Fresno City councilman and mayor candidate Lee Brand

He certainly harbored political ambitions, but they were late in life. In 2000, he unsuccessfully ran for Fresno County supervisor. Then, at age 59 in 2008, he won his Fresno City Council seat.

On the council, he’s distinguished himself as a budget expert and policy wonk. He’s fond of the 19 legislative acts he has authored or co-authored.

During a good chunk of that time, Brand has made no secret of his desire to seek the city’s top elective office. It may seem like he’s been running forever for Fresno mayor, as he began contemplating it during his first council term and has been planning it for most of his second term. He officially formed his campaign committee in July 2014 – long before any of the other four candidates.

Brand was unopposed in his 2012 council re-election, which allowed him to bank his campaign cash – the genesis of his now impressive mayoral campaign war chest. All total, Brand has raised more than $330,000, and loaned his campaign another $100,000. As of April 23, he had $292,000 cash on hand, far more than any other candidate.

At age 67, this would without a doubt be Brand’s final political stop.

On the campaign trail, his message has been consistent. It is based on free-market principles and small government, which are bedrock values of the Republican Party, of which Brand is a member. When he talks about making Fresno a better place to live, about hiring more police officers and firefighters, of building more parks in the southern part of the city and keeping roads pothole free, of helping address the homeless and vagrancy issues, his solutions are found in the private sector first, often working in concert with government.

For instance, one of his proposed solutions to the homelessness issue is housing through public-private partnerships.

“My vision for Fresno – I’ve said it many times – is a full economic recovery, where we drop unemployment below 10 percent on a sustained basis,” he said. “By doing that, we are going to elevate wages and we’re going to improve the quality of life and create wealth community-wide.”

He’s also talked about selling some city property and putting proceeds from those sales into an annuity, which would generate annual interest and make it an ongoing revenue source. He also has talked of putting up billboards in the public right-of-way, like the Sugar Pine Trail, that parallel major roads such as Willow Avenue, or at Al Radka Park, which abuts Highway 180. Brand said that could generate $500,000 to $1 million annually.

These new revenues could be used to hire more police and firefighters, he said. Brand’s long-term goal is to have 1,000 officers for the city.

Still, Brand has committed to projects started by current Mayor Ashley Swearengin – who reaches her term limit at the end of the year – such as an updated General Plan that focuses on infill development, transforming the Fulton Mall back into a street, and a bus rapid transit project for Blackstone Avenue, Kings Canyon Road and Shaw Avenue.

And while he is not a fan of the state’s proposed high-speed rail project, he recognizes that construction is underway in Fresno, and the city is in line to compete for a maintenance facility that could bring 1,500 good-paying jobs to the region. As such, Brand is committed to trying to win the facility and pursuing other aspects of the project that would benefit the city.

Lee Brand

Age: 67

Occupation: Fresno city councilman

Family: Married, 4 children, 3 grandchildren

Education: Master’s degree, public administration, USC; bachelor’s, Fresno State; associate’s, Fresno City College

Key endorsements: Fresno Chamber of Commerce; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1027; Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford; Assmblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno; Fresno City Councilmen Paul Caprioglio, Clint Olivier, Steve Brandau

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